New Zealanders will be able to fly into NSW and the NT without quarantine from 16 October as part of the first stage of the long-planned trans-Tasman bubble.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the arrangement will only operate one-way at first but that the ball is “very much in [NZ Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern’s court” to make it a two-way arrangement.
“Having spoken to [Qantas CEO] Alan Joyce and [Virgin CEO] Paul Scurrah this morning, they are very, very pleased with these arrangements and want to see planes back in the air across the Tasman,” said the Deputy PM.
The unexpected announcement – the most significant since the start of the coronavirus crisis – came after Health Minister Greg Hunt, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern all signalled a deal could be in place before the end of the year.
Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference on Friday afternoon, Deputy PM McCormack said, “This is the first stage in what we hope to see as a trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries, not just that state and that territory.
“I have just gotten off the phone with [Northern Territory] Chief Minister [Michael] Gunner who says the fish are biting and the beers are cold and he wants to see as many of his New Zealand cousins and friends as possible.
“And I know that NSW is certainly going to welcome this announcement.”
The Deputy PM also suggested that the deal could soon be extended to any state or territory that agrees to the government’s definition of a hotspot, currently defined as a place that has seen three days of fewer than three cases.
He added that SA is likely to be “the next cab off the ranks” to join NSW and the NT.
Quarantine-free travel will also have the side-effect of slightly easing pressure on NSW’s hotel quarantine system, which is currently taking many Kiwis.
Earlier this week, New Zealand Prime Minister hinted that two-way travel could be slightly further off, telling the Australian Associated Press, “What we just need to hear a bit more from Australia on is what the definition of a hotspot will be, how they’ll manage the state borders in those situations, but we’re working that through.”
The acceleration in plans appears to coincide with both Victoria and Auckland regaining control of COVID-19 case numbers after a second spike of infections.
Friday’s developments mark a significant U-turn after PM Arden earlier said plans had been placed on the backburner and Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said he didn’t believe the routes would start until 2021.